Who Do I Want to Be?
(John 12:20-28) Warren Payne
Let me tell you of a frightening experience I had when I was a teenager. At the time our family were living in Nelson. As a high school student I attended a weekly Christian group in the school. The organisation, today called Scripture Union, ran camps in the summer and winter holidays. This particular camp was in the winter at Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson National Lakes district in the North of the South island. The mountain range beside the lake is the St Arnard Range.
The mountain bush was so dark we could not see our more than a few meters ahead. The mountain side was very steep and the bush very thick. We were lost in the Rotoiti National Park.
As a group of young men, attending a Christian youth camp, we had departed the overnight camp at the head of Lake Rotoiti early that morning. From the lake we climbed the mountain and tramped along the ridges back towards the local township at the other end of the lake. However, at some point we began our decent at the wrong place, and were now lost, somewhere between the lake and the mountain top. It was winter and by about 6 pm very dark.
Our only option was to keep going down the mountain until we reached the lake shore. At the lake shore there was a track that should lead us back to the old school room where we were based. On reaching the lake, it became clear that it was so dark we could not even see the bush track along the lake side. At this point our leader suggested we all follow him in one line. A good suggestion if you could see the person in front of you, but we did not even have a torch or matches.
After some discussion it was decided we place one hand on the shoulder of the person in front and walk in a line following the leader. Much to our relief at about 10 pm that night, we broke out of the bush and could see the lights of the local school building we were using as a camp base. Arriving back we discovered the other camp members were just about to send out a search party and were praying for our safe return.
In the darkness of that moonless night we all learned how important it was to keep contact with each other, and follow the leader through the night.
In John 12: 26 Jesus says “Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honour anyone who serves me”
Today as we look at the theme of what it means to follow Jesus I pray each one of us will be able to do just that. From John 12:26 we see there are four conditions and one promise that Jesus gives for all those who wish to be his followers.
- Disciples must want to follow Jesus – ‘Anyone who wants to be my disciple’. = Desire
- Disciples must actually follow Jesus – ‘must follow me’ = Practice
- Disciples must be servants of Jesus – ‘my servants’ = Attitude
- Disciples must stay close to Jesus – ‘must be where I am’ = Relationship
- Disciple will be given honour by the Father = Reward
Being lost in the dark on a mountain certainly made these four conditions very clear.
- We all wanted to follow the leader.
- We actually did follow and no one decided to go their own way.
- All in the group were very happy to do as we were instructed by our leader.
- We all knew the importance of staying close together.
- At the end of the journey we as followers were praised by the camp leaders for our willingness to obey the leader and do exactly what he asked.
The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus asking His disciples to follow him and in some cases people asking to follow Jesus. To understand the Gospels we need to understand why Jesus spoke about discipleship and following so much.
In our world today these words are not used very much. We talk more about mentoring, coaching, counselling and training. All these words have some relationship to what Jesus was meaning but do not fully explain all he meant.
To understand what Jesus meant we need to understand the culture of the day and why He used these words.
Rabbi / Teacher Culture
The Jews lived in a society that was deeply religious. They followed the teaching of the Old Testament as explained to them through the teaching of the Rabbi. That is the religious teachers of the day.
Each Jewish Rabbi had disciples. These disciples were men, who had of their free will, chosen to be a follower of a particular Rabbi.
It was the Rabbi's role to explain the meaning of the Old Testament to the followers who would then put it into practice.
In other words disciples would live according to the teaching of their chosen Rabbi. Disciples were able to discuss the meaning of the Old Testament teaching with their Rabbi but in the end must follow his interpretation of the meaning in all aspects of life.
Jews believed that the authority of these Rabbis came from God.
But when the Jews of the day compared Jesus’s teaching with the Jewish Rabbi’s teaching, the people were very aware that “Jesus spoke with authority and not like the Jewish teachers” This raised the question of who Jesus was in the minds of the hearers.
Matthew 7:28 – 29
“When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowd were amazed at his teaching. For he taught with real authority – quite unlike their teachers of religious law.”
So with that in mind, let’s listen to what Jesus had to say about being a disciple.
Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23 all say the same thing.
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”
To those listening in Jesus day this would be interpreted as:
- You have a choice to follow me,
- You must now make my will more important than your own self-centred decision making.
- Be aware there will some hard times when following me. This will mean you will have to choose the way of sacrifice to your own personal desires
- But if you follow me be assured you will receive honour.
“Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am”
This they would understand because in Jesus day servants were always near the master and always watched very closely for the master’s next instruction. Waking or sleeping a servant needed to stay close to his or her master.
So what does it mean to be this kind of disciple in the 21st century?
Disciples must want to follow Jesus – By my own free will. - Desire
Disciples must actually follow Jesus – Live a lifestyle based on Jesus teaching.- Practice
Disciples must be Jesus's servant – Unselfish and always ready to serve.- Attitude
Disciples must stay close to Jesus – Dependant on Jesus for guidance and provision of needs. - Relationship
In the world of Islam Christians will often explain to those who ask what they believe in, that they are “Followers of the Messiah”.
In the ancient Roman world of Jesus day you were either followers of Rome and the emperor or you likely to be killed as a traitor. The early Christians were not persecuted so much because of what they believed, but because of the lifestyle that came from that belief.
Most who come from China, Japan and other cultures with strong family ancestral teaching and practice know how hard it is to be a disciple of Jesus and still please family who are not Christians.
Young people from Japan, who become Christians in NZ, learn this very soon after returning home. They are often asked to worship ancestors who have died and ashes are kept in the family altar. For them it is a real taking up of a cross and following Jesus.
Taking up your cross is the point where your will and God's will intersect. You choose to take up God's will no matter the cost to you personally.
In life, every choice you make has a cost involved.
- If we choose to buy an expensive car then our bank balance is reduced by that amount.
- If we choose to follow our own way in life then the cost is all the effort and struggle it takes to life for oneself. The cost is to wake up each morning with the pressure of not knowing why I am on earth and not understanding the meaning of life.
- However, if I choose to follow Jesus, sure there is cost, I may be misunderstood and stand out when I have to decide to do right when everyone else is going along with the worlds thinking. But, I wake in the morning with a clear conscience and know the purpose of life and that my sins are forgiven. Also Christians know that God is them throughout the day through the Holy Spirit.
Choosing God's will has a cost but it is a far better cost than choosing my own will.
The Bible says “There is a way that seems right to man but ends in death”
The only way to know God's will is stay close to God by reading the Bible every day and applying what it teaches to all of life’s situations. A servant stays close to the master so they can observe and do exactly as the master pleases.
Staying close to Jesus is to observe where the Holy Spirit is at work, and then and there co-operate with the Holy Spirit. For example when a friend asks you about your faith, or about Jesus Christ, you know God is at work in their heart, and you can freely share with them, and hopefully they will move one step closer to accepting Jesus personally.
Being willing to always obey what we know is God's will, is always the path to receiving honour from our heavenly father.
The director of the Christian film called “Courageous” includes a story about a man who clearly chooses to obey God rather than man. He takes up his cross and follows Jesus. We will call him Carlos.
After a period of unemployment and concern that he will not be able to provide for his wife and two children, a friend gets Carlos a job in a factory. The work goes well and he is able to not only do his work well, but make some good improvements to the processes in the factory.
One day he is called into the boss’s office and offered a job as a manager of a different department. He is offered a higher salary and other benefits. However, there is one condition. That condition was that he be dishonest and only record part of the department’s income. The boss then gave Carlos one day to think over the offer.
As he returns home he is very concerned and not sure what to say to his wife. Does he take the job and dishonour his family and God, or refuse the job and keep his family poor? He may never get another chance!
That night he and his wife, read the Bible together and prayed together about what to do.
The next day Carlos is again called into the boss’s office and asked for his decision. The decision is that he cannot take the job because he is a Christian, and cannot disobey God and be dishonest. The boss smiles, and then to his surprise offers this loyal employee the job and even increases the salary benefits.
With this the boss explains that it was all a test. They had interviewed a number of other company employees for the job. All the others had been willing to cheat and not record the work accurately. He was the only one they had found that they could trust!
When he called his wife there was many tears of thankfulness and blessing that God had honoured their decision to act courageously and obey God rather than man.
In 1 Samuel 2: 30 God says “I will honour those who honour me”
That is why Jesus said John 12:26b “ And the Father will honour anyone who serves me”
In life it is so easy to confuse God's love for us with our own desire for a comfortable life. However, God is not always comfortable: He may be challenging, like his request for us to take up our cross and follow– but never forget God is always loving.
Jesus in obedience to His loving Heavenly Father knew that being unconditionally loved by His Father did not mean a love that gave Jesus all he wanted. God loves Jesus but also expects self-discipline from Jesus. Jesus said it all before the cross when He prayed “ not my will but your will be done”
What then does Jesus expect from his disciples? He calls us to carry our crosses, but this in no way diminishes his love for us or our inclusion in his family. When Jesus spoke the words of today's text he was facing the cross. Jesus was struggling in his spirit to obey His Heavenly Father. His humanity was there for all to see. Listen to what he said in John 12 verses 27 and 28
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray. “Father save me from this hour”? But this is the very reason I came! Father bring glory to your name.”
The cost of obedience for Jesus was the cross, where he died for you and I. Was it worth it? Yes, for God raised Jesus from the dead three days later, and the words of our master came true.
John 12:24-25 “Unless a grain of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”
Jesus obeyed the Father, we obey Jesus but through the leading of the Holy Spirit. That's why Christians are call followers of Christ Jesus. Being a Christian is not just a ticket to Heaven when we die. Being a Christian is living a life that in all ways honours God whom we love first and then second our neighbour as our self. The order is simple when we think of the word JOY. Jesus, Others and You.
In the sports world those who do well know how true it that they must follow the instructions of the coach no matter how hard it is.
The other day on a TV program Li Nan the famous Chinese Tennis player said: “When it comes to playing Tennis on the world stage you are fighting against the other player, the weather and all the constant travel. But above all you are struggling with self, with your own selfish desire to have an easy life.
From the very beginning the battle Jesus is called to fight is against selfishness and his way to overcome self-centredness is self-sacrifice.
Jesus knew He was loved by his Father. However, the more you know the love of God the more you are called to obey. Jesus said “If you love me you will obey me”
Love and sacrifice are like the two wings of a bird. Both are required to fly. Both are required to experience all that God has for us.
As we choose to follow him, we find that he naturally changes our priorities and our understanding of what he wants to do in our lives.
Romans 12:2 “Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Is our top priority in life, in 2016, to follow Jesus?
Is our lifestyle always in obedience to God's will revealed in God's Word the Bible?
Are we always willing to take up our particular cross as a loyal servant of Jesus?
When we stay close to Jesus by placing our hand in His loving hand and following him, then and only then, do we enjoy the wonder of sacrifice as an honour bestowed by a loving God.
What an honour to be a servant who learns and knows God's will and has the desire to do it till we meet Jesus on that day when He returns. The honour a person receives come from the person you serve.
Receiving honour from the society we live in, is important and right. When we graduate from a university the university honours us with a degree.
Let us all do our best in the world where God has placed us.
However, at the end of life the honour God bestows on his disciples will be all that finally matters.
Will we hear Jesus word “ Well done good and faithful servant”
In verse 25 of today’s passage Jesus put it very clearly.
John 12:25 (The Message version)
“Anyone who holds on to life just as it is, destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you will have it forever, real and eternal.”
Let go and let God.